In theory food shopping is enjoyable. In practice I hate it, because it’s awful. At least when I have to go to the grocery store. There’s something deeply unsettling about being in an overlit sterile warehouse rammed so full of food that’s been grown halfway – or further – around the world, treated, freighted, shipped, repackaged and redistributed.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy bananas and exotic foods – because I do. It just makes me wonder if it’s all necessary, all the varieties, different brands and the sheer quantity. When you consider that every year 15 million children die of hunger you start to wonder whether 19 types of squeezable mustard on one supermarket shelf might be a literal embarrassment of riches.
Now there are a lot of reasons (food speculation for example) why this disequilibrium between the haves and the starving exists. And feeling guilty about having enough to eat isn’t productive or particularly noble. Nor does it change anything.
However there are simple ways people can make change, but one of the easiest isn’t really even connected to the global food issues. And that’s eating locally. Locally doesn’t mean the nearest McDonald’s – it means sourcing quality food from independent producers. That usually means less trips to Tesco.
And apparently I’m not the only one making fewer trips to the supermarket. More and more people are eating locally these days. According to Local Foods there are over 700 farmer’s markets in the UK. My local, The Chatsworth Road Sunday Market, has recently become a densely populated weekly festival of locally sourced produce, artisanal baking and handmade lunches. And there’s talk of expansion.
Not only do people go to local markets to get their locally sourced goods: box schemes (organic delivery services) for organic produce are almost as plentiful. Big operations like Abel and Cole fit next to smaller ones, such as Hackney’s Growing Communities. Consult this list to find one that delivers to your area. And supermarkets themselves are catching up too – with varying levels of commitment to organic and locally-sourced products.
The backlash against box schemes and farmer’s markets is that they are just trendy places for hipsters to be seen (or seen doing). And pricy too. That’s a fair point. But the fact is: the global food crisis cannot be overcome by charity alone; throwing money at a famine thousands of miles away, while noble, seems slightly disingenuous if you’re not taking into account your own eating habits.
Besides, concern alone won’t tip the balance of the inequality between the haves and the have-nots. Attitudes and habits need to change.
Taking into account the provenance of the goods you consume, and making a concerted effort to allocate some of your food budget – whatever it is – to supporting small independent producers can go a long way to generating widespread change in consumption habits. If no one else’s then at least your own.
You may not even be able to make a donation to a worthy overseas charity (which you should if you can afford it), or change where your neighbour shops (tricky in most neighbourhoods), but on your own weekly food shop you can see that whatever makes it to your plate has had a responsible journey. And the fact is: it’s getting easier to do just that.